There are so many reasons why you need to get to know the activist, the artist and the vocal powerhouse that is Camille Safiya.
Fiery and determined to change the world, Camille comes from a family with many generations of musicians, and has been singing since she was just a toddler.
I sat in on one of Camille’s rehearsals, as she prepared for her show at the Delancey in the Lower East Side. She owned that room we were in. Our photographer circled her, snapping photos at rapid fire speed, as she became lost, and found, in her music. There was no doubt about it, she was in her element. Camille was born to be on stage, telling her story (and the stories of so many others) through her songs.
She was raised in she was raised in Teaneck, NJ by way of Washington Heights, or Uptown, NYC but she will proudly let you know, the Dominican Republic is home. One of the most amazing things about Camille, is that she finds the perfect blend, and intertwines numerous different types of music. She’s so versatile and she offers something for everyone. I asked many people who have heard her most recent EP, 24K, what genre of music they thought she fell under and they all said the same thing. They couldn’t place her under any one genre, she’s an amazing mix of so many different types, from artists all over the world and throughout time.
Before her rehearsal that night, I got the chance to sit down with Camille in a dimly lit bar over in Midtown Manhattan. She talked to me extensively about her life, who her musical influences are, what drove her to be an artist and how she wants to leave her mark on the world.
First of all, thank you for sitting down with us.
Tell us about you. Who is Camille Safiya? When you leave the world, what’s the impact you want to leave? What’s the message you are sending through your music?
Well first and foremost, I’m an activist. So, my mom raised me as a revolutionary. And I’m super focused on the youth and creating world change when it comes to women’s rights and children’s rights. Specifically women of color. Secondly, I’m an artist. So I use art as therapy. So all of my music is therapeutic, I don’t create music just to create music or for people to vibe to. I love when that happens! But It’s really me just getting through shit. Same thing with painting. I’m just a free spirit.
I like that. So what inspired you to do music? Can you remember the time when you said “I know I want to do this.” Talk about that.
I was always a musician, I grew up in a family with seven generations of musicians. So, way way back to my great great grandfather in Cuba, he was one of the first black pianists out of Cuba. He traveled to Vienna, then traveled to Germany. His sister was the first female Choir director out of Cuba. My father is an Afro-Cuban drummer. All of my cousins sing or rap. Everybody is either musically or artistically inclined, in one way or another. So it was never something I decided, it was always our life. On holidays, we don’t just sit around and eat, we perform for our parents or put on showcases.
I grew up like that. So it was never a choice I had to make. It was never “Oh I want to do music,” it was “Oh I want to record my music.”
It was in your soul.
And your voice, it’s both soothing, and hard and edgy at the same time. Who inspires your sound? Who did you grow up listening to?
I’m super inspired by Billie holiday. Eryka Badu. Amy Winehouse. I like the roughness in their voices. I’m really connected to my rasp. My whole life I was made fun of for having a deep voice, I’ve always had a deep voice. People used to call me Kermit the frog. When I was small I didn’t want to sing in front of people. Then I used to listen to Toni Braxton and said “If she can do it, I can do it! Her voice is deeper than mine!”
Photo Credit: Reid Mangel
Toni Braxton is the truth!
Yeah! So I would just sing that all the time. Then I focused on a lot of Blues singers. And that really gave me confidence in my voice.
And it’s ill. The first thing that came to my mind when I heard your voice was ill. Raw, pure emotion. You can really feel what you’re going through.Another thing I wanted to get to was the blending of the sound in your EP 24K.
A lot of people say Soul and R&B are dead. People say that our generation is very much about EDM and Trap music now. Then you have some artists that are keeping Hip-hop alive – shout out to J. Cole and Kendrick [Lamar] – but you didn’t sacrifice that sound. You kept R&B and Soul very heavy in this EP but you also fused a lot of other sound, you have Reggae, you have an old school sound but also modern day alternative R&B, how did you find that perfect mix? And what made you go with that theme that was so musically diverse?
I drew the inspiration from my bloodline. Down to who my parents are, and who my sister and I are because of them. My father is Cuban, German, Hungarian. He’s also Jewish. My mom is Dominican, from St. Thomas, Jamaica. Puerto Rico, France, there’s so much in my blood. I felt the need to reflect that. It was just the way I was raised. Saturday mornings, we listened to Salsa music. My dad would play Vinyl’s of Etta James, Nina Simone. Then flip it and play Rumba music. My sister, that’s where I got all the 90’s influence from. I would steal all of her CD’s! [laughter] One year she got me a CD case and said “if you’re going to steal all of my CD’s, you might as well keep them safe.” Then I lost that whole CD case.
But again, just like I grew up with music, there was no other option. When people ask my race, I can’t just answer one thing. With music, I can’t do just one type. That’s just me.
So in the future, do you see yourself continuing to do all different types of music?
I’m a chameleon. My mom named me Camille for a reason. Many changes. My middle name is Safiya, which means clear minded. Pure. I changed a lot. My style changes a lot. I feel like I’m trying to gain my fan base, knowing that from jump.
With me, I don’t choose by the genre, if it inspires me, then I rock with it.
In the track 90’s babies, you talk about how “Kings used to be kings, queens used to be queens, now we’re selling to dope fiends.” Are you frustrated with this generation?
Extremely. It’s more, hope actually. It’s more hoping that they see their true potential. We were born into a really messed up world. It is frustration, but it’s also mixed with hope, but I do see an enlightenment happening, and I do see an awakening happening.
Maxwell once said “live life first, create after.” Does this apply to you? How do you use struggles you go through now, or even you went through in the past and apply it to your music?
I would innovate that. Live life through your creations. If you wait, you miss out on the purity of that moment. I’m all for in the moment creations. I’m about the process, not the product. I love that people love 24K, but I was in love with the process.
So tell us – was this musical process different than EP’s, music, projects you’ve done before? What was different about it?
This one was different because I didn’t set out to make an EP. Some of these tracks are a year old, some of them are two weeks old from when we put the album out. It was me gathering all my jewels. This is my treasure chest. It felt very now or never. This was all encompassing, it was a more organic process and I didn’t feel rushed.
So what do we plan to see from you in the future? What’s the ultimate goal?
I’m going to keep putting out music. And I’m about to be out. I’m going to travel the world and perform. That’s my next move, is spreading my wings.
Camille just performed a crazy set down at SXSW and she's been recently featured on billboard.com. If you haven’t heard Camille’s most recent EP, head over to her site, www.camillesafiya.com and take a listen. Trust me, you won’t be disappointed.